For Kentucky students, climate change is a major issue– as is a lack of education on the impact of climate change in the classroom. Recent reporting from The New York Times outlined that despite being a significant issue for young people, climate change only appears “minimally in many state middle school science standards nationwide.” But a recent story in The Courier Journal attests that while Kentucky schools have lagged on covering climate change–that is changing. As Kentuckians experience the impacts of climate change, including tornadoes and severe flooding, how climate change and environmental education are discussed in school is seen as increasingly urgent.
Joud Daleh, a junior at the Ignite Institute in Northern Kentucky, recounts her education with climate change through a conversation with The New Edu. “I learned about climate change and its effects on our society through my family, the news, social media platforms,” she said, adding, “but never [through] a school curriculum.”
Daleh worries about the contributions students themselves have made that negatively impact our environment. “I believe these conversations should be nothing but factual and distributed out by science-focused educators,” she said. “I hope to learn different strategies for changes we as students can take to lessen the effects of climate change and make a difference in our environment.”
Climate change is a change in weather patterns that happens in the long term which define the Earth’s local climate. Since the mid 20th century, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Most of the United States’ greenhouse gases come from electricity and heat emissions leading at 31%, transportation at 15%, manufacturing at 12%, agriculture at 11%, and finally forestry at 6%.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Worldwide, net emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities increased by 43 percent from 1990 to 2015.” This is a major crisis because greenhouse gases cause climate change by trapping heat, which in turn affects animal and plant life in already extreme climates. The climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions also contributes to very dangerous outcomes. Wildlife habitats will be destroyed, contributing to widespread extinctions. Drought, superstorms, and heat waves would occur more often, impacting human health. Agricultural production has already been shaken in the U.S., as shifts in climate force farmers in the Midwest and beyond to adapt how and what they grow.
The United Nations underscores the connection between the classroom and climate change, outlining the relationship in its Framework Convention on Climate Change, noting: "Education can encourage people to change their attitudes and behavior; it also helps them to make informed decisions. In the classroom, young people can be taught the impact of global warming and learn how to adapt to climate change.” Some other practices to reduce climate change include voting on environmentally friendly legislation, cutting back on meat, using public transportation or eco-friendly ways to transport, buying in bulk, switching to LED bulbs, and getting involved with climate activism. The framework suggests that environmental education is not only crucial for our planet, but for the future of this generation.
INTERVIEW WITH A KENTUCKY ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATOR
In order to better understand how Kentucky schools are attempting to help students better understand issues related to climate change and the environment, The New Edu reached out to Brittany Wray, the education director for the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education. Her work mainly revolves around educational workshops, programs, and events. The KAEE also offers support and resources to environmental educators across Kentucky. Following are excerpts from our conversation.
What is environmental education?
Brittany Wray: Environmental education is really a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment.
The desired result of environmental education is that individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have skills to make informed and responsible decisions. Environmental education and community engagement go hand in hand. Effective environmental education leads to individuals who are actively participating in their community to help resolve environmental challenges and make informed and responsible decisions.
Why is it important in Kentucky to have environmental education in schools?
Brittany Wray: I think now more than ever, we are seeing the side effects that come with being completely disconnected with nature. For many students, when they go home, they don’t have safe access to the outdoors, or they’re just consumed with technology. [Environmental education] in schools and classrooms is the best way to ensure students have the opportunity to connect with nature and learn about the environment and their role and responsibility in caring for it.
What do you wish was discussed more about environmental education in our classrooms?
Brittany Wray: In environmental education, we teach how to think, not what to think. We focus on providing facts and scientific information, building critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and leaving personal choices or stances on issues in the hands of the participants. Environmental educators do not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action. [Environmental education] teaches individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking, and it enhances their own problem-solving and decision-making skills. It can often be politicized or have a negative connotation, and I just hate that. I wish we could change the narrative to make it be seen as more of something that truly is for the good of all people and the planet.
Did you know?
Over the course of this reporting, The New Edu writer Charlotte Ranallo researched ecobricking, another way students and schools can and are fighting the impacts of climate change.
According to Global Ecobrick Alliance, “Ecobricking is a simple way to take personal responsibility for our plastic use. It also keeps CO2 and plastic out of the biosphere.” An ecobrick is a plastic bottle that is tightly filled with dry, used plastic. Think of a plastic water bottle filled tightly with packaging and other types of plastic; instead of 450 years of decomposing the plastic, you can make an ecobrick. Ecobricks can also be used in schools. Tadian School of Arts and Trades went ahead and made 14 items from ecobricks. The school now moves them together and apart for benches, tables, and more. Ecobricks are also very cost effective. Ecobrick.org’s brik market is best to find, sell, or trade eco bricks within your community.